Columbus has not been a "walking city" for quite some time. There was a time, when Columbus was young, when everybody walked to get just about anywhere. But that time, that walking time, ended relatively early in the city's history.

Columbus has not been a "walking city" for quite some time. There was a time, when Columbus was young, when everybody walked to get just about anywhere. But that time, that walking time, ended relatively early in the city's history.

Columbus was and is a created city. There was no city on the "High Banks opposite Franklinton" until the Ohio General Assembly brought it into being in 1812. That new town was a place of many trees and few people for a number of years. But even after the trees were gone and the streets were lit nightly with oil lamps, people walked to get from place to place. The residents of Columbus walked to church, and to school and to the shops that extended south from Statehouse Square toward Main Street.

Even after the Ohio Canal and the National Road arrived in Columbus in the early 1830s, it remained a walking city. A ride on the canal or along the National Road was expensive and most people simply did not have that kind of money.

Because most cities, like Columbus, were walking cities, there was little inclination to reside anywhere other than close to downtown. So that is what most people did until well after the end of the Civil War in 1865. But it was during the war that the new age was foretold.

The first streetcar appeared on High Street in 1863 in the middle of the Civil War. It seemed to be a good time for this kind of innovation. The small town of 18,000 people had suddenly become the home of thousands of Union troops at nearby Camp Chase on the West Side of the city. It was a good time to grow a business in central Ohio.

A lot of people did just that, and Columbus became a rather big city in the years after the war. It was in those years that Columbus became a "streetcar city" as well. That one lonely streetcar moving up and down High Street pulled by two overworked horses soon was succeeded by a number of streetcar companies. Each served a different part of town and each wound its way through its own particular part of the city, eventually ending up somewhere near the center of things that came to be called "downtown."

It is interesting to note that until well after the Civil War, no one really talked about a downtown Columbus. The place was such a small town that no one part of it was more central than another. The streetcars changed all that. They permitted people to live one, two and even three miles from the center of the city in new, mostly residential "streetcar suburbs."

These suburbs were few in number at first because riding on a slow-moving streetcar that was hot in the summer and cold in the winter was not all that pleasant. But all of that changed in the early 1890s when the streetcars became electrified. Now the big new streetcars - heated in the winter and moving fast enough to be cool in the summer - took the new middle class of Columbus to new homes in new neighborhoods several miles from the center of the city.

All the streetcar suburbs were soon superseded by whole new groups of suburban communities based around the automobile. To this day, it is not all that hard to see the difference between the streetcar suburbs and the automobile suburbs that followed them.

Look at the houses along Neil Avenue just north of Goodale. This is a classic streetcar suburb. The large houses of elaborate design and dcor are spaced quite close to one another along the broad and spacious avenue. This was a street that once carried not just one but two streetcar tracks in its center.

In its heyday, the fashionable middle class who lived in these houses left their nice homes in the morning and boarded a nearby streetcar to travel to work or play in the central city.

By the 1920s, thanks to Henry Ford, the automobile, once a toy of the rich, had become the belonging of much of the rest of America. A whole new class of automobile suburbs was built four, five and six miles from the downtown. We can find them easily today in Clintonville, on the Hilltop and on the East and South sides of the city. The houses are still quite close together. But now one can find driveways as well, leading to small garages behind the houses. It is almost as if people felt the obligation to hide the cars that had brought them to suburban enjoyment.

But these new 1920s suburbs did have one important amenity: sidewalks. Even if a person were forced to use a car to get to suburbia, it was expected that one would walk after arriving there.

Even this expectation was put aside after World War II.

The 16-million men who came home after the war were looking for cars, wives and a place to live - usually in that order. The GI Bill of Rights helped them importantly in the latter by providing inexpensive home loans.

The new subdivisions built after the war were significantly different than the neighborhoods built in the 1920s and 1930s. The houses were very much like one another and featured prominent garages facing the street. And most of these new developments had no sidewalks. If one was going to walk, one went someplace else to do it.

In less than two generations, we had changed from a people who walked everywhere to a people who hardly walked anywhere.

By the 1990s, it was becoming apparent that we had become a nation of people who needed a bit more exercise. Fortunately for us, the people who manage our parks, both locally and regionally, have anticipated this need and provided us with a wonderful set of places to walk, run and even ride our bikes.

All we have to do now is learn to use them.

Ed Lentz writes a history column for ThisWeek.

This postcard of Franklin Park, postmarked from 1909, shows the conservatory in the background and an early automobile in the foreground.